Healthcare news

Police investigating hyponatraemia death of Claire Roberts

Claire Roberts (9) died in 1996 at the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast and was one of the five child deaths between 1995 and 2003 investigated by the Hyponatraemia Inquiry. Picture by Mal McCann

Police are investigating the death of a child at the centre of a public inquiry.

Claire Roberts, nine, died in hospital in 1996 from a medical condition called hyponatraemia caused by a lack of sodium in the bloodstream.

A public inquiry was set up in 2004 to investigate the deaths of Claire, Adam Strain, Raychel Ferguson, Lucy Crawford and Conor Mitchell.

It said the children's deaths were avoidable and Northern Ireland's attorney general, John Larkin QC, ordered a new inquest into Claire's death.

A preliminary hearing at a coroner's court in Belfast on Wednesday was told a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) investigation was under way.

Detective Superintendent Richard Campbell said: "We really are at a very early stage."

He added: "We are working our way through the inquiry report and background material with a view to seeing whether any criminal offences may have been committed and if so to try and identify the individuals who may have committed those offences."

In January Inquiry chairman Mr Justice John O'Hara ascribed Claire's death to negligent care and said there was a cover-up.

He is due to meet coroner Joe McCrisken this week to discuss the taking of statements, the inquest in Belfast was told.

In a report published in January, the inquiry chairman considered how hospitals managed fluids while treating the children.

Another preliminary inquest hearing is scheduled for September.

The coroner said he hoped by then to be told whether police envisaged a file being prepared for prosecutors.

He added he was under a legal duty to progress the inquest as quickly as possible.

Mr McCrisken said he had taken receipt of all the material which the public inquiry had and it was being stored.

"I am interested in getting the best evidence possible and the most reliable evidence possible."

Alan and Jennifer Roberts parents of nine-year-old Claire Roberts. Picture by Mal McCann

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